[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----S.C., N.J., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 29 09:47:02 CST 2005
A case in which execution does not fit the crime
On behalf of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, I wrote last
week to Gov. Mark Sanford to ask him to show mercy by granting executive
clemency to Shawn Paul Humphries. Mr. Humphries is scheduled to be
executed in the name of all the people of South Carolina on Friday in
revenge for his murder of Mendal Alton "Dickie" Smith.
I want to be clear: We pray for and remember the victims of homicide and
their families. We pray for and remember Mendal Smith. But an execution
will not bring him back, and it will bring no comfort to his family.
Instead, an execution will create more suffering, both in the family of
the victim, which has been promised some sort of unattainable closure with
an execution, and also in the family of Mr. Humphries.
This week, there is an execution scheduled every day, somewhere in this
country. One of those will be the 1,000th execution since the resumption
of executions in 1977. There has been enough killing. 1000 is way too
many; 1 was too many.
Among leaders of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, our concern
in this case is moral, but it is also pragmatic and secular. While it was
a terrible crime, this case never should have been considered for the
death penalty. It was an attempted armed robbery by a man who was under
the influence of drugs and alcohol. The victim reached for a gun, and the
defendant fired one time and ran.
The evidence in the case clearly demonstrates that this was an
ill-conceived robbery gone awry. Humphries panicked. If he had coldly
calculated and planned this murder, then why did he leave an eyewitness
unharmed? Why did his codefendant just wait for the police in the store
and surrender without a fight? Why did Humphries surrender without a fight
when the police caught up with him later that day? While tragic, of the
hundreds of tragic murders that take place every year in South Carolina,
this was clearly not the worst of the worst.
Wait a second. Not the worst of the worst? I want to acknowledge that if
it is your loved one who was killed, then yes, that is the worst murder.
But stepping back and looking at the death penalty as a matter of public
policy, there are many questions that must be asked. One of the most
important questions has to do with the victims families. If the death
penalty is supposed to be a commodity for victims families, then why are
we using it so infrequently? And what does that say to the vast majority
of victims families? Your loved one was not valuable enough?
In fact, of all of the people who commit murder in South Carolina, who are
caught, and who are eligible for the death penalty, the vast majority do
not get the death penalty. Most murderers get the alternative sentence of
life without parole. In our state, as in the nation, far less than 1
percent of the killers who could be executed actually do get executed. And
for the most part, it is not the worst of the worst that we kill. Those
who get executed are the ones with the worst lawyers, the ones with white
victims, the ones who kill in a county that can afford a death penalty
trial. If we truly value fairness in our justice system, this cannot
This week, the citizens of South Carolina again are asked to step forward
and kill a criminal in the name of the law, and in the name of vengeance.
But we can say "no," there has been enough killing. I invite you to join
me by contacting Gov. Sanford. In the name of fairness and equal justice,
urge Gov. Sanford to show mercy by commuting Shawn Paul Humphries sentence
to life without parole.
(source: Opinion; The Rev. Brenda Kneece is executive minister of the
South Carolina Christian Action Council. Learn more about this case at the
Web page of the South Carolina Equal Justice Alliance,
Trial may affect death penalty in New Jersey
The case of an accused child killer whose lawyers claim is mentally
retarded could decide the future of some death penalty cases in New
Porfirio Jimenez is awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted a
10-year-old boy before murdering him in 2001. Lawyers plan to argue his
case before the state's highest court today, with prosecutors expected to
lobby against an unusual appeals panel decision that ruled that juries,
not judges, should decide whether a defendant is mentally retarded.
The August ruling also said that prosecutors seeking the death penalty
have to prove a defendant is not mentally retarded, bucking a national
norm that makes defense lawyers prove their clients are unfit for
According to legal experts, the ruling made New Jersey the only state to
place such a burden on prosecutors.
"I don't know if any other state has gone this far," said Richard Dieter,
executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Prosecutors allege that Jimenez, of Morristown, followed Walter Valenzuela
home from a carnival, lured him into a wooded area, then sexually
assaulted the boy and beat him with a garden tool.
Jimenez's lawyers claimed he was mentally retarded, with an IQ of 68, when
prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty. A 2002 U.S. Supreme
Court ruling declared that executing mentally retarded criminals violates
the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
To prove someone is mentally retarded in a court in New Jersey, a
defendant must have an IQ below 70 and cannot be able to function alone in
society. Also, the retardation must have started before age 18.
Prosecutors allege that Jimenez is not mentally retarded but falls within
the area of "borderline intellectual functioning."
(source: Associated Press)
How Governor Schwarzenegger, and Those Who Seek Clemency for Stanley
"Tookie" Williams Both Get Our Legal and Constitutional Tradition Wrong
On December 13, the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams is set to occur
in California. Williams is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Crips gang -
but while in prison, he's become a renowned children's book author, and a
crusader against gang violence.
Williams hasn't admitted guilt, or expressed remorse for his crimes.
Still, his rehabilitation, many have argued, merits clemency from Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the
Ninth Circuit, which denied Williams's appeal, remarked on his "laudable
efforts opposing gang violence from his prison cell," and suggested that
his "good works and accomplishments since incarceration may make him a
worthy candidate for the exercise of gubernatorial discretion...."
Williams's supporters are right that Williams should be spared execution,
for capital punishment is wrong, and his life is worth saving.
But the case they are making on his behalf - which focuses on concepts of
fairness and justice -- misunderstands what clemency is, and why the lives
of the condemned should be spared. One cannot earn or deserve clemency -
as Williams's supporters say he has. Rather, as defined by our legal and
constitutional tradition, it is an exercise of mercy and grace.
Meanwhile, Governors across the country have recently demonstrated
another, and far more pernicious, misconception about clemency - as I will
explain. This misconception, if not corrected, may cause Governor
Schwarzenegger to wrongly deny clemency in Williams's case.
The Governors' Misconception: Clemency Is Essentially For Those May Be
In California and across the nation, clemency has virtually disappeared
from the world of capital punishment, as the grounds on which it has been
granted have dramatically narrowed. Despite appeals from many -- from the
Pope and Mother Teresa, to former prosecutors and even judges and jurors
in death cases -- governors now tend to reserve their clemency power for
"unusual" cases in which there are serious doubts about guilt, or in which
someone clearly has been unfairly convicted.
Consider then-governor George w. Bush. Describing his approach to capital
clemency, Bush wrote, "In every case I would ask: Is there any doubt about
this individual's guilt or innocence? And, have the courts had ample
opportunity to review all the legal issues in this case?"
Apparently applying this standard, Bush declined to spare -- 7 years ago
-- Karla Faye Tucker in Texas. Tucker had participated in a gruesome
murder, but had admitted guilt, expressed remorse, and embraced religion.
Politicians, educators, religious leaders, and even such stalwart
conservatives as Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson implored Bush to grant
her clemency. But Governor Bush rejected their pleas, and explained, "Like
many touched by this case, I have sought guidance through prayer. I have
concluded judgments about the heart and soul of an individual on death row
are best left to a higher authority."
Governor Schwarzenegger - who will decide Stanley "Tookie" Williams's fate
-- has embraced a standard only slightly broader. He takes the view that -
as he explained earlier this year, when he allowed Donald Beardslee's
execution to proceed -- "Clemency is not designed to undo the considered
judgment of the people in favor of the death penalty, but to prevent the
miscarriage of justice."
This notion of clemency has sadly become the national norm, with governors
everywhere refusing to consider mental illness or incompetence, childhood
physical or sexual abuse, remorse, rehabilitation, racial discrimination
in jury selection, or the competence of the legal defense.
Nor have governors been willing to take into account glaring disparities
in sentences between co-defendants, or among defendants convicted of
But it doesn't have to be that way - for this view is simply wrong. It
deeply misunderstands clemency, as our nation's history has defined it.
Not Justice, But Mercy: A Look at the Jurisprudence of Clemency
Fundamentally, clemency is about mercy, not justice. Writing in 1833, in
the first case about clemency to reach the Supreme Court, John Marshall
described it as "an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with
the execution of the laws."
Similarly, writing a little more than twenty years later, in Ex Parte
Wells, Justice Wayne explained the difference between the meanings of a
pardon in "common parlance" and in the law. In common parlance, he noted,
a pardon may loosely be deemed as meaning "forgiveness, release,
remission." But in the law, Wayne wrote, "it has different meanings, which
were as well understood when the constitution was made as any other legal
word in the constitution now is," and noted that without clemency, our
system "would be most imperfect and deficient in its political morality,
and in that attribute of Deity whose judgments are always tempered with
In sum, Marshall and Wayne equated clemency with grace and mercy - not
justice or fairness. An alternative view was offered in the early
twentieth century by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes -- who
claimed that a pardon represents not an act of mercy and grace, but rather
a cold cost-benefit analysis: "the determination of the ultimate authority
that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what
the judgment fixed."
Still, most courts have decisively rejected Holmes's view. Indeed, even
Chief Justice Rehnquist -- no death-penalty liberal! -- described clemency
in one decision as the sovereign's "power to extend mercy, whenever he
thinks it is deserved."
And in another, Rehnquist made clear that "the heart of executive clemency
is a grant of clemency as a matter of grace, thus allowing the executive
to consider a wide range of factors not comprehensible by earlier judicial
proceedings and sentencing determinations."
Clemency, Grace, and Arnold Schwarzenegger
In sum, Governor Schwarzenegger's idea of the clemency standard - as meant
only to correct miscarriages of justice - is simply wrong; it profoundly
misunderstands our legal and constitutional traditions.
Schwarzenegger should not - and cannot - hide behind this
mischaracterization of his clemency power. The decision in the Williams
case really is a test of the man, and what kind of governor he wishes to
It is about whether he will focus on charity or compassion, or worry about
paying the steep political price - at a time when his own popularity is at
a new low - that granting clemency to Stanley Williams will necessarily
entail. The courageous decision is to spare Williams, not condemn him to
death. The question is whether Schwarzenegger has that courage - not
whether Williams has "earned" or "deserved" clemency.
(source: Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of
Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College and the author of
Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution (Princeton University
Telling His Story to Save His Life----Writer Barbara Becnel has made
clemency for Stanley Williams a global cause celebre.
So obscure that his conviction for 4 murders barely made headlines, death
row inmate Stanley Tookie Williams owes his notoriety as much to a
determined woman who stood by him and to committed death penalty opponents
as to his shift from gangster to anti-gang activist.
During a jailhouse visit in 1993 to research a book on gangs, writer
Barbara Becnel discovered that Williams, who is scheduled to be executed
Dec. 13, had renounced his gang past. Over the next 2 years, Becnel shed
her doubts about the co-founder of the Crips and helped him work to
persuade youths to avoid gangs.
She arranged for Williams to speak by telephone to youth and criminal
justice groups, and edited his series of children's books. Death penalty
opponents also took up his cause, pushing him into the limelight by
nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize for
literature, prestigious nominations that are surprisingly easy to make.
Eventually Becnel negotiated a deal for the movie "Redemption," which
starred Jamie Foxx as Williams.
Now Becnel is spearheading a campaign to persuade Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger to commute Williams' death sentence to life in prison
without parole. Schwarzenegger has scheduled a closed clemency hearing for
Williams for Dec. 8.
Entertainers including Foxx, Elliott Gould, Danny Glover, Laurence
Fishburne, Ted Danson, William Baldwin, Mike Farrell, Harry Belafonte,
Edward Asner, Jackson Browne, Russell Crowe, Richard Dreyfuss, Gabriel
Byrne, Snoop Dogg, Bianca Jagger, and politicians such as former state
Sen. Tom Hayden, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Los Angeles City
Councilman Bill Rosendahl support clemency for Williams.
"He's probably now one of the most famous of California inmates [awaiting]
execution because of all the media attention," said Alex Alonso, who
studies gangs and owns the website streetgangs.com.
Currently the executive director of a nonprofit group in Richmond, Calif.,
in the Bay Area, Becnel, 55, downplays her role in the work Williams has
done from death row. She said she is merely "the hub" to whom Williams and
others bring suggestions.
A tall, striking African American with long, curly brown hair and
rectangular glasses, Becnel directs a staff of 50 in a converted hospital
on a litter-strewn Richmond street. "Once people come up with ideas how to
help, they track me down," she said.
Becnel said she cares for Williams as a brother. Williams has described
her as his "human angel" and his "intellectual sounding board."
It was Becnel who suggested that Williams go public with his change of
heart by making a videotaped speech that she showed at a gang peace summit
in 1993. The tape mesmerized the gang audience, Becnel said.
Even then, she wrestled with doubts about his sincerity. When Williams
told her that he wanted to write children's books, a publisher said he
first had to write a book about the allure of gangs. Williams turned the
publisher down. "We are not that desperate," she quoted Williams as
Becnel said she came to believe in him. "If it was really about him, and
not the kids, he would have" written the more marketable book, she said.
Becnel spent her own money to fly to a booksellers' convention in Chicago
in 1995 to try to find a publisher for the children's series.
"I was a woman on a mission," she said. "It took me 2 days to walk the
McCormick convention center."
After Williams' first set of books was published in 1996 and his recorded
apology for starting the Crips was distributed to some California schools,
Becnel launched a website, http://www.tookie.com , where Williams could
share ideas for steering kids away from gangs.
Farrell, board president of Death Penalty Focus, a group that is trying to
abolish the death penalty, said he met Becnel through a mutual friend and,
over lunch, discussed making a movie about Williams' transformation in
Becnel was not the 1st person whom Farrell had met who had a strong bond
to a death row prisoner.
"When somebody meets somebody in that situation, they are often intensely
emotionally affected by the hideousness of the situation," Farrell said.
Around the same time, Becnel met a woman who was active in anti-violence
efforts in Zurich, Switzerland, and took Williams' campaign to Europe.
Zurich, like many California cities, was troubled by gangs, with Somali
and other immigrant youths engaged in violence, Becnel said.
She made several trips to Zurich and eventually met the Swiss national
legislator Mario Fehr, who would nominate Williams for the Nobel in 2001.
Legislators and professors in certain disciplines can nominate Nobel Prize
"The Nobel Prize nominations really catapulted his name into the media,"
Alonso said. "That's when reporters started calling me."
Becnel fielded calls from Hollywood, eventually signing with 20th Century
Fox to do a movie about Williams' gradual change in prison.
In the meantime, Philip Gasper, an anti-death penalty activist and a
professor at Notre Dame de Namur University, a small Catholic school in
Belmont, near San Francisco, heard Williams speak via telephone to a UC
Berkeley panel and decided to submit more Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
"Barbara and I came up with the idea, and she helped me through the
process," Gasper said.
"All you need to do to nominate is to write a nominating letter to the
committee in Norway," Gasper said.
Gasper's prime motivation in writing the four-page letter was to save
Williams' life, he said, but he also thought that Williams deserved the
prize because "his message has had such resonance with kids in the U.S.
and in other countries."
"I think he has probably saved a few hundred lives, at least," said
Gasper, who has nominated Williams 4 times for the peace prize.
Brown University English professor William Keach, who is also active in
the campaign to end the death penalty, nominated Williams for the Nobel
Prize for literature.
Williams, Keach said, "has a remarkable ability as a writer, with a
message and a personal history that gives his writing force."
Becnel said one of Williams' books received two awards: one from a
teachers group, and the other from the American Library Assn. in the
"Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers" category.
At least 65,000 of Williams' children's books have been sold to schools
and libraries, Becnel said. Urban students read them because they portray
a world the children recognize, she said.
The Jamie Foxx movie aired in 2004, and Williams' notoriety grew. Becnel
said she asked Foxx to provide free copies of "Redemption" to community
groups, schools and public agencies that requested them. The California
Department of Corrections requested 3 copies, she said. Williams also
received the 2005 Presidential Call to Service Award from a presidential
council on volunteer service. The award was signed by President Bush, but
the White House said the president knew nothing about it.
William A. Harrison, an archbishop with the Old Catholic Orthodox Church
in Louisiana, told Becnel that he had been inspired by the Foxx movie and
had recommended Williams for the award. Anyone who has done a required
number of volunteer hours can get an award by mailing $1 or $2 to the
council. "I was skeptical it could happen," Becnel said. Harrison later
called her and asked her where he should send Williams' award.
Becnel said she had assumed that Williams would win his legal appeals
because she considered his trial an outrage. There were no African
Americans on the jury, and the prosecutor used jungle imagery in his
closing arguments to portray Williams, Becnel said.
She said she didn't view her work as a campaign to save Williams' life
until February, when a court rejected the inmate's appeal.
She is now working with death penalty opponents to try to show that
Williams' work really has saved youths from gangs, and that he is worth
more alive than dead.
Whether Williams' efforts truly have reduced gang violence is debatable.
Although he participated in gang truces in New Jersey and California, the
peace was short-lived.
Father Gregory Boyle, a Catholic priest in Boyle Heights who has devoted
his life to working with gangs, said he has not read Williams' books,
several of which are out of print. Boyle also wasn't sure of Williams'
"But his is an important voice, and you wouldn't want to extinguish it,"
the priest said. "You need all voices on deck, all angles, all
perspectives and points of reference, and his is an utterly unique voice
and you need it present."
Opponents of clemency, including law enforcement and prison officials
across the state, say Williams, by helping establish the Crips, is
responsible for thousands of deaths. And, they add, he has shown no
remorse for the brutal South Los Angeles murders of Albert Owens, a
7-Eleven store clerk, and motel owners Yen-I Yang, 65; Tsai-Shai Chen
Yang, 62; and their daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 42.
Their opposition to Williams' clemency bid has been fierce. A statewide
prosecutors' group that favors execution is particularly influential,
"If you want to be a statewide politician, you want them on your side,"
Hayden said, "and they want photos of an executed Williams on their walls
saying, 'We got the founder of the Crips.'"
As the execution date nears, the campaigns for and against clemency have
escalated. On Nov. 18, Becnel spoke to a group of several hundred people
at UC Berkeley about Williams' case. The next day, more than 1,000 people
showed up outside San Quentin State Prison to ask Schwarzenegger to
commute Williams' sentence.
During the following week, Bianca Jagger and the Rev. Jesse Jackson
visited Williams, and advocates released yet another list of supporters,
including Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, a
Northern Ireland peace organizer.
As she was leaving one of her speaking engagements, Becnel said she and
Williams have not talked about whom he would want present should his
execution proceed as scheduled.
She said she was not allowing herself to think that far ahead.
Said Becnel: "I am driven right now to do everything I have to do to save
(source: Los Angeles Times)
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